As the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, 2019, millions of people sang Auld Lang Syne together and made resolutions to lose weight, travel more, and no doubt, stop smoking. What is almost guaranteed however, is that no one assumed their biggest achievement that coming year would be to make it through a global pandemic.
A pandemic that almost one year on still has a stronghold over the political and economical landscape of not only the United Kingdom, but the rest of the world too. Rich or poor, black, or white, naughty, or nice, Covid-19 cares not at all about your personal circumstances. And while there is now, finally, light at the end of a very long tunnel thanks to the rapid development of a vaccine, we can be sure of one thing, the way we live and how we work has forevermore been changed.
The spring of 2020 should have brought with it a flourish of optimism. The reality of course was very different. Coronavirus had officially hit our shores and with it, lockdown life began. Remarkably, the data on employee engagement during this time and the proceeding months was exceptionally high. It seems that as people struggled with the day-to-day challenges that Covid-19 brought about, they took comfort in their work. They weren’t necessarily happy – that is an altogether different metric, but their work did give them a focus and opportunity to carry out some aspect of their lives in a normalised manner. For a time, it could be a distraction from the mounting anxiety and collective stress of a nation.
Unsurprisingly, mental health issues have seen an exponential rise during the pandemic. Redundancies, home-schooling, the breakdown of relationships and the caring for elderly relatives, alongside the worry of the unknown, have all had an impact on employee wellbeing. As the pandemic continues, employers must now concern themselves with the resilience and care of their people. Those who showed strength 10 months ago, may now feel weary and disheartened.
The mental health charity Mind found that more than half of adults (60%) and over two thirds of young people (68%) said their mental health worsened during lockdown. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions were particularly affected and employees who had been furloughed also reported a decline in their wellbeing compared to their peers.
High levels of engagement aren’t necessarily a sign that everything is good, and organisations must support their people throughout long periods of uncertainty and stress. HR expert Josh Bersin agrees, imploring companies to put their workforce first, now.
Companies must invest in various programs and solutions that help people maintain themselves, get rest, and learn how to deal with this uncertainty.”
“It goes to the real issues of public health and collaboration. People helping each other and people supporting each other, checking in and listening. A lot of the human skills that are needed in any kind of a crisis, that is what companies are going to have to do. Because people aren’t going to stay on high alert for two years, they just can’t, it’s impossible.”
Compassion is key. Understanding your people and being able to display empathy over judgement, and kindness over frustration will be critical to your business. How your workers view you in times of crisis will undoubtedly have a direct impact on how your business is perceived in the good times.
Tellingly, research by Maxis Global Benefits Network (Maxis GBN) found that just under half (46%) of employees say the Covid-19 pandemic has compelled them to re-evaluate the importance of the benefits their employer offers. The survey also revealed that 33% of workers want their employer to prioritise health over lifestyle benefits, with almost one-fifth (21%) requiring greater access to wellness support.
These stats chime with how Josh views the current situation.
If you’re providing substandard care to your employees this year, I’m sure they know about it. It’s time to put as much money into that as you can. If you expect your company to grow through the pandemic you better be taking care of your people and those benefits better be competitive.”
As things stand, we don’t know how long the pandemic will last. As vaccinations roll out, there is hope of a new dawn. Yet, it would be remiss to think that things will go back to ‘normal’ any time soon. If in fact, they ever can, or should. Now is the time to change the narrative and shift the mindset that has seen presenteeism and fear create burnout and employee checkout. Instead of resolutions that we fail to keep for more than a few weeks, let’s make flexibility, sensitivity, and support the new ‘normal’.
Learn more insights from Josh Bersin on employee relations, benefits and much more here.